Feast of Gerard Manley Hopkins (June 8)   Leave a comment

Above:  Gerard Manley Hopkins

Image in the Public Domain



English Roman Catholic Poet and Jesuit Priest


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shoot foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed.  Why do men then not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

All is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:  the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins


Gerard Manley Hopkins comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Company, 1997).

Gerard Manley Hopkins, scholar and priest, was a giant of Victorian English literature, but only after his death.  He was one of those authors whose work entered the literary canon post mortem.

Hopkins grew up in a devout High Anglican family in which various art forms–visual and written–were common.  His father was Manley Hopkins, a former British consul general to the Kingdom of Hawai’i and the founder of a marine insurance company.  Manley was also a Sunday School teacher and a churchwarden at St. John’s Church, Hampstead.  The father was also a punster, fortunately.  Our saint’s mother, Kate Smith Hopkins, encouraged her children’s piety.  At her urging our young Gerard grew up reading from the New Testament daily.

Hopkins, born in Stratford, London, on July 28, 1844, was a fine student.  After studying at Cholmondley Grammar School, Highgate, he matriculated at Baillol College, Oxford University, in 1863.  According to Baillol College lecturer Benjamin Jowett, Hopkins was “the star of Baillol.”  Hopkins, influenced by the Oxford Movement, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1866; John Henry Newman received him into Holy Mother Church.

Hopkins became a Jesuit then a priest.  He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1868.  At that point he burned the poetry he had written until then.  In 1875, in Wales, however, he resumed the composition of verse.  Unfortunately, he could never get any of it published.  Even literary friends who read Hopkins’s poetry commented that it was unreadable, due to its rhythms and odd syntax.  Hopkins, ordained a priest in 1877, served in parishes in London, Oxford, Liverpool, and Glasgow before teaching classics at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire.  From 1884 to 1889 he was Professor of Classics at University College, Dublin, Ireland.  Life in Ireland did not agree with our saint; his health failed and he worked too hard.  Hopkins died of typhoid fever in Dublin on June 8, 1889.  He was 44 years old.

Hopkins expressed himself eloquently in his poetry.  He delighted in nature, in which he recognized the presence of God.  His joys and sorrows were also evident in verse, not published until 1918.  Hopkins’s collected works have enriched the lives of many people since then, fortunately.

Hopkins, who spent much of his time in Ireland in emotional anguish and physical illness, found peace at the end.  His final words were

I am so happy!





Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring Gerard Manley Hopkins and all those

who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728


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